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Tesla pushing envelope of safety - supplier

Industry news

Frankfurt, Germany / Tel Aviv, Israel - Israeli maker of collision detection and driver assistance systems Mobileye broke ties with Tesla because the carmaker was “pushing the envelope in terms of safety” with the design of its Autopilot driver-assistance system.

Mobileye chairman Amnon Shashua, who is also the company’s chief technology officer, said on Wednesday: “No matter how you spin it, Autopilot is not designed to cover all possible crash situations in a safe manner. It’s a driver assistance system, not a driverless system.”

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Mobileye's collision avoidance systems use a combination of cameras, lidar and radar. Computer graphic: Mobileye

The safety of Autopilot, which helps drivers stay in lanes and steer on highways, was thrust into the public spotlight after a fatal crash involving a Tesla Model S driver using the new technology in May. Tesla said in a blogpost after the accident that “neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied.”

A Tesla spokeswoman said on Wednesday the company had never described Autopilot as an autonomous technology or self-driving car.

“Since the release of Autopilot, we've continuously educated customers on the use of the features, she said, “reminding them that they're responsible to for keeping their hands on the wheel and remaining alert and present when using it.”

‘Drivers must be prepared to take control at all times.’

However, drivers using Autopilot were able to take their hands off the wheel at highway speeds for several minutes at a time, and soon YouTube videos proliferated showing Tesla drivers driving hands-free, prompting Tesla founder Elon Musk to express concern about drivers doing “crazy things.”

On Sunday, Tesla said it would update Autopilot to make it more difficult for drivers to ignore warnings to keep hands on the wheel and other changes that Musk said would probably have prevented the fatality in May. Musk said on Sunday that as drivers became familiar with the system, they tended to ignore audible warnings to retake the wheel.

However, he said the revised system would still allow a driver's hands to be off the wheel for up to three minutes while following a car at highway speeds.

Mixed messages

Shashua's comments escalate an unusually public rift in an industry where suppliers and carmakers rarely speak ill of each other in public. After Mobileye announced its break with Tesla in July in the wake of the fatality, Tesla said Mobileye could not keep pace with Tesla's product changes.

But Shashua said the company had reservations about the mixed messages from Tesla about Autopilot - both boasting of its capabilities while cautioning that drivers needed to keep their hands on the wheel - especially after watching Tesla's response to the Florida crash.

“This is going to hurt the interests of the company - and the entire industry - in the long term,” he said, “if a company of our reputation continues to be associated with pushing the envelope in terms of safety like this.”

The company counts 27 car manufacturers as customers for its collision detection systems, representing about 70 percent of the current market.

Tesla and Musk have also said the Florida death was the first known fatality involving a car operating on Autopilot in 130 million miles of driving, and have contrasted that to the average of one death every 60 million miles by human-driven vehicles worldwide.

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